When the gym comes to your living room

  • Sarah DuBois, 15, of Moultonborough, practices ballet, and prepares for a spring dance recital through online classes offered through Lakes Region Dance in Meredith. Across the Lakes Region and perhaps the nation, virtual phys ed is being conducted online and through social media. —Courtesy

  • Kennedy King, 4, of Bow, follows along with an online ballet class from an instructor at Lakes Region Dance in Meredith. Her mom is Lea King, who owns the studio. Courtesy

 Laconia Daily Sun
Published: 4/17/2020 4:32:32 PM
Modified: 4/17/2020 4:32:18 PM

It’s an unorthodox setting for physical training, but Alison Whitham, an instructor at the Downtown Gym, is making it work. Flanked by closets with mirrored doors, and a shelf with her computer screen, the veteran of cardio, strength and toning is leading her class through arm circles, shoulder rolls, burpees and bird dogs – from her bedroom. They’re fitness moves most of them know.

“I hope you all have some good music playing wherever you are,” says Whitham, who is teaching “Circuit 101,” a sequence of moves familiar to most of the class. “Now lift your knees up like you’re running through tires. I can hear all the furniture shaking in my room as I do this.”

At a time when much of America is hunkered down at home, enduring a global pandemic that has shut down businesses, restaurants, social gatherings and in-person learning, fitness clubs and trainers in the Lakes Region are providing antidotes to isolation and inertia: online classes that improve physical conditioning at the same time they combat cabin fever. Some participants say they like it as much or more than meeting at the club.

“It’s convenient, and at the beginning, when we’re all facing the class in gallery view, we still get that social part of working together,” Witham says.

“Next movement will be the dead bugs. On your mats, on your back, arms up and feet up at 90 degrees. The first ten movements we did, we’re going to do them all again!” She closed the workout with child’s pose, a yoga position, followed by stretches.

Stretching fitness

Across the Lakes Region and perhaps the nation, virtual physical education, conducted online and through social media, is upending the world of group learning and personal fitness – perhaps in a way that will endure. Gyms are conducting live classes on Facebook and Zoom, banking tutorials in online libraries and YouTube, and creating fitness goals and challenges that can be done live, facing your instructor and classmates on a laptop screen propped in your living room or basement. Taped sessions can be done when it’s convenient, even after the kids go to bed.

“When this whole thing is over, a lot of us might want to continue online, because it’s so convenient,” said David Friedman, a student in Downtown Gym’s Zoom Barre class, conducted by instructor Sherry Gardner from a corner of her Gilford home.

“Take your arms out to the side in a cactus arm shape,” Gardner tells her four students online, just as she would if she were facing them at the gym on a Thursday morning. “Keep your leg muscles active. They don’t get to have a vacation!” Her online class for Parkinson’s disease patients has “huge numbers,” she said, and includes students from as far as Hawaii and California.

“Personally, I feel it’s a time of social isolation. As artificial as it might be, any fitness program is as much social interaction as it is physical education. It’s beneficial to the immune system and staves off anxiety. I’ve always believed movement is medicine.”

Gardner, 59, a survivor of multiple injuries and surgeries, said she needs to keep physically active daily, even in small ways. With her students who have Parkinson’s and other chronic conditions, “I see it on a daily basis – it lifts their spirits and gives them fewer side effects.”

When Gardner’s two college students, who are marooned at home during the coronavirus closure of campuses, emerge from online learning in their bedrooms, Gardner announces, “Let’s go out in the driveway and do pushups!” Their mood changes, she said. “It just helps you get unstuck.

“In a situation like this, where you’re suddenly so cut off, I have family all over the world I’m connecting with,” including her invalid mother, who she leads in hand exercises through Zoom. “Even if they sit there and breathe the whole class, they’re not alone,” Gardner said.

Pam Hayes, 71, of Gilford, takes the club’s spinning and other classes from home with her husband Kevin, 72. “Mentally, when I get through a workout, I take a big breath and breathe. I’m hot and sweaty but I’m having fun. It really drives it home that we’re in this together, with absolute determination.”

Downtown Gym has loaned members equipment to use at home during the coronavirus. Online classes through Zoom include cycling, body conditioning, strength training, boxing, Zumba and boot camp, as well as Shine, described as a dance party, and Pound – drumming and rocking out to music, said owner Janine Page. “Just grab your laptop and go out under a tree.”


Gilford Hills Tennis and Fitness Club offers 20 different hour-long classes live-streamed on Facebook, then banks them for members to view and retake in their free time. “If you’re busy with your kids and can’t do it, but can watch a video at 10:30 a.m., it will still be available when you want it,” said Missi Perkins, fitness director at Gilford Hills. Some members have asked for live-streaming to continue after the pandemic because they enjoy the flexibility, Perkins said. “We’re trying to keep everybody moving and motivated. This allows people to be part of each other’s lives even though they can’t be in the same space.”

Lakes Region Dance in Meredith switched to online classes last month when schools closed, and now offers Zoom sessions in jazz, ballet, tap, contemporary, modern and other categories for adults and children.

“We needed to get dance in kid’s homes,” said owner Lea King, whose four-year-old daughter, Kennedy, takes ballet streamed live on their living room TV, and likes talking to her instructor throughout. She has no idea she and her classmates are muted, King said.

“For kids, not being able to socialize or go to school and see teachers and classmates, we couldn’t take dance away, too. You see everyone standing in their kitchen, living room, attic, basement or outside. For the most part, everyone loves it. You take the loss that comes with shutting down and moving to the virtual world. This still allows connection for the dancers, to dance and see everyone else,” said King. “Once they log in, they get all chatty.”

An outlet

Three years ago, Kale Poland, a physical trainer in Moultonborough, started an online cycling challenge during the month of April that has grown from 20 to 60 stalwarts who ride 5 to 10 miles a day, whenever it’s convenient, regardless of weather. Participants are sprinkled throughout the Northeast, and include enthusiasts in Ohio and Michigan who stay connected through texts and selfies sent to #realgainzriding.

“April is not a fun month,” Poland said. “It’s pouring rain and 38 degrees. I thought, how can I create a community around this so we can all go outside? The challenge is 30 days, riding 10 miles daily on roads, or five on trails, in any conditions.

“Some people will text and say, ‘That was terrible!’ But it’s super-positive,” Poland said. “We’re all in this weird place mentally with stuff going on in the world, and this is an outlet smack in the middle of when we need to stay home.”

Bruce Papps, 82, a Real Gainz rider from Weirs Beach, has been biking since he was 30. He also cycles when he visits his daughter in Portland, Maine. “It certainly keeps you healthy,” Papps said. “It’s very relaxing. You get to see more than if you were riding in a car or walking, and you get to meet lots of nice people.”


(The Sunshine Project is underwritten by grants from the Endowment for Health, New Hampshire’s largest health foundation, and the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation. This article is being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information, visit collaborativenh.org.)

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